What are Loose Parts? Why do we need them to play?

Sunflower Play Initiative uses loose parts as tools to encourage child-directed play.  Child-directed play is the type of play that happens when children freely choose what to play and create and follow their own rules for how to play.  Loose parts are open-ended materials (natural or synthetic) that can by easily moved, taken apart, put together, combined, transformed.  Loose parts do not have a definite set of instructs or purpose until children give it a purpose.

For example, a big cardboard box can become when children tape 4 round plastic lids on its sides, and it can also be transformed into a house with fabric draped over the top.

Examples of Loose Parts

From nature.
sand, water, sticks, leaves, stones, shells
From the recycling bin.
cardboard boxes, bottle caps, paper tubes, plastic containers and utensils
From the store.
blocks, tape, Legos, fabric, buttons, beads, string

With loose parts the possibilities are endless. 

Here are 8 reasons why every child needs loose parts play.

  1. Hands-on Learning. Kids combine, move and build with objects to understand how the world works.
  2. Executive Functioning. Loose parts play promotes executive functioning (paying attention, focusing, regulating emotion), a crucial part of children’s academic success.
  3. Creativity. Kids can be highly inventive with limitless possibilities.
  4. Social Play and Language Development. Loose parts facilitates play with others; language use and understanding increases.
  5. Active. Large loose parts such as big boxes encourage movement, strength, and balance.
  6. Science.  Kids use the scientific method about using loose parts in new and different ways.
  7. Alternative to Screens. Screens cannot replace the real world exploration and learning.
  8. Free Choice.  Kids make decisions about how to play which combats stress and builds self-esteem.

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